Author Archives: Barry L. Davis
By Barry Davis
Kitty Anderson told the story about Jerry, whose parents own a sheep farm, who frequently took a few days off from work every spring to look for sheep. She asked why he would have to look for sheep. Don’t they know how to get home?
He told her that whenever a pregnant ewe goes into labor, she immediately sits down. But if she is facing downhill when she sits, she will stay in that direction, fighting against gravity to push the lamb out of the womb. If no one helps her, she will die in that position rather than simply turn around.
Jerry said every night his family has to carefully count the pregnant sheep. When even one ewe is missing, the whole family goes out to search for her. They either bring her home or stay with her until her labor is over. If the weather is harsh, they have to build a shelter around her, while using their bodies to keep her warm.
We, as pastors, are like that stubborn animal. We often face trials in ministry with the attitude that we can conquer the obstacles by ourselves. We fear for the flock God has given to us and worry about the various trials and tribulations in their lives. We fret over whether or not they are faithful. Perhaps it is a matter of pride, or of being overly self-confident, but we feel that there is something that we must do, say, or pray, that will lead our sheep in the right direction. The good news for us, as well as for our flock, is that Jesus has the answers for every single one of them.
If we would just stop, as under shepherds, and look to our lead Shepherd, we will discover that we can solve our problems by simply turning around and following His lead. God has a simple solution already prepared for us. We are not the solution makers, but our Shepherd is. Consider the following four truths, and acknowledge that God has this under control!
TRUTH #1 — REMEMBER THAT JESUS PURCHASED THEM—AT THE CROSS
“So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.” — Acts 20:28 (NLT)
TRUTH #2 — REJOICE THAT JESUS SEEKS AND SAVES THEM—BY THE GOSPEL
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.” — Luke 15:4-5 (NLT)
TRUTH #3 — ACKNOWLEDGE THAT JESUS KNOWS AND MARKS THEM—BY HIS SPIRIT
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me.” — John 10:14 (NLT)
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” — John 10:27 (NLT)
TRUTH #4 — TRUST THAT JESUS FEEDS AND LEADS THEM—THROUGH HIS WORD
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. — Psalm 23:2-3 (NLT)
 Kitty Anderson, Lakewood, California
By Thom Rainer
The pastor’s wife in many churches carries heavy burdens.
Sometimes they are impossible expectations.
To be fair, this post could refer to any church staff person, male or female, so it could be called ministers’ spouses. For simplicity, and because I primarily hear from this group of people, I refer to them as pastors’ wives.
So what are some of these unfair expectations? Here are the top ten expectations imposed upon these ladies.
- “I am expected to attend every function at the church.” One wife told us that church members resent it when she is seen doing anything outside the church.
- “Many church members expect me to know everything that is happening in the church.” In other words, they should know everything their pastor/husband knows.
- “We have several church members who feel free to complain to me about my husband.” So her church has several members who are lacking in emotional intelligence.
- “Church members utilize me as a de facto assistant to my husband, giving me messages for him.” One wife shared with us that she received eleven messages to give to her husband after a specific worship service.
- “I am still amazed how many church members expect me to function as an employee of the church.” Some are expected to lead music or play piano. Others are expected to act in a specific ministry employee role such as student or children’s director.
- “Some of the members expect our children to be perfect and act perfect.” One wife explained that she and her husband were new to a church when a church member confronted them about their misbehaving children. Their outlandish sin was running in the church after a worship service.
- “I am always supposed to be perfectly made up and dressed when I leave the house.” A church member expressed her dismay to a pastor’s wife who ran into a grocery store without makeup. You can’t make this stuff up.
- “I have no freedom at our church to be anything but perfectly emotionally composed.” This story really got to me. A deacon chastised a pastor’s wife for shedding tears at church four days after her dad died.
- “I think some of our church members expect my family to take a vow of poverty.”She was specifically referring to the criticism she received for purchasing a six-year-old minivan after her third child was born.
- “So many church members expect me to be their best friend.” And obviously a pastor’s wife can’t be the best friend to everyone, so she disappoints or angers others.
These are some of the comments we have received at this blog over the years from pastors’ wives. And it seems as though these trials are more gender biased. For example, the husband of a children’s minister commented that he rarely has the pressure and expectations that he sees imposed upon female spouses.
But more than other staff positions, the pastor is naturally the focus of attention and, often, criticism.
And the pastor’s family, by extension, becomes the focus of unfair and unreasonable expectations.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on September 4, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
I can’t tell pastors today how difficult it was when I was a pastor.
To the contrary, I have to be honest and tell them it is more difficult now.
All three of my sons went into vocational ministry after serving in the business world. One of them is in seminary administration and two of them are pastors. I never pushed them in that direction. I knew they could not make it unless they were certain God called them.
Yes, it is indeed more difficult to be a pastor today than earlier years. At least ten major issues led to these challenges.
- The advent of social media. As a consequence, private criticisms have become public forums. The fish bowl life of a pastor’s family is now 24/7.
- Podcast pastors. When I was a pastor, there were only a few well-known television pastors as points of comparison to my inferiority. Today, church members have hundreds, if not thousands, of pastors on podcast they compare to their own pastors.
- Diminished respect for pastors. When I was a pastor, most people held my vocation in high esteem, even those not in church. Such is not the case today.
- Generational conflict in the church. While there has always been some generational conflict in the church, it is more pervasive and intense today.
- Leadership expectations. Pastors are expected today to have more leadership and business skills. We constantly hear from pastors, “They didn’t teach me that at seminary.”
- Demise of the program-driven church. In past years, church solutions were simpler. Churches were more homogeneous, and programmatic solutions could be used in almost any context. Today churches are more complex and contexts are more varied.
- Rise of the “nones.” There is a significant increase in the numbers of people who have no religious affiliation. The demise of cultural Christianity means it is more difficult to lead churches to growth.
- Cultural change. The pace of change is breathtaking, and much more challenging today. It is exceedingly more difficult today for pastors to stay abreast with the changes around them.
- More frustrated church members. Largely because of the cultural change noted above, church members are more frustrated and confused. They often take out their frustrations on pastors and other church leaders.
- Bad matches with churches. In earlier years, there was considerable homogeneity from church to church, particularly within denominations and affiliated church groups. Today churches are much more diverse. A pastor who led well in one context may fare poorly in another unless there is a concerted effort to find the right match for a church and pastor.
These ten reasons are not statements of doom and gloom; they are simply statements of reality. Serving as pastor in a church today has more challenges than it did years ago.
But challenges in ministry are common throughout the history from the first church to today. Such is the reason no pastors can lead well without the power, strength, and leadership of the One who called them.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 1, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
“It’s not fair I lost my job,” the pastor told me.
“My church members post a lot worse things than I do on social media. It’s a double standard.”
He’s right. It is a double standard. But it’s reality. And, with greater frequency, more pastors and church staff are losing their jobs because of what they post, particularly on Facebook and Twitter and, to some extent, their blogs.
By the way, churches will not always tell the pastor the specific reason for the firing. But, once we begin to infuriate our church members with our posts, many will find a myriad of reasons to give us the boot.
I recently recommended a pastor to another church. I think very highly of him. Indeed, the search committee chairman seemed genuinely enthused when I recommended him. He contacted me a couple of weeks later with this comment: “We can’t consider him. He’s just too snarky and sarcastic on social media.”
Of course, this pastor was not fired. But he never had a chance to be considered by another church.
So what are pastors posting on social media that is raising the ire of church members? It typically falls into one or more of these five categories:
- Generally combative and sarcastic comments. Do you know someone that seems always to be in debate on social media? They always want to prove their points, and they will take you on personally if you disagree with them. There are now a number of former pastors in this category.
- Political comments. If you make a political comment in today’s incendiary environment, you will offend someone. The persons you offend may just be the ones who push you out the church.
- Taking on church members. I cringe when I see church members posting critical comments against a pastor or church staff member. I cringe even more when the pastor decides to take them on in a public forum. Most readers have no idea the context of the conflict. They just see their pastor acting like a jerk.
- Criticizing other people. I have a friend who served as pastor of four churches. He loved criticizing well-known pastors, celebrities, Christian leaders, and others on social media. He was fired from his last church without a stated cause. I believe I know why. And he has gone three years without finding another place in ministry.
- Unsavory comments. A pastor or church staff member making lewd or suggestive comments on social media gains nothing, even if it’s a quote from a movie or someone else. The consequences are always negative.
This post is not about pastors losing their prophetic voices. It’s about pastors and church staff losing their ministries because of their failure to control their digital tongues.
“If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself . . . (The tongue) pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 1:26, 3:6)
Social media is not the place to vent or to wage petty battles.
The consequences are simply too great.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 6, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Thom Rainer
Nine out of ten.
That’s a lot.
Nine out of ten churches in America have an average worship attendance of less than 350. And that percentage has not changed significantly for many years. Yet the unchurched pool of persons is increasing in most communities. There are people yet to be reached.
But most churches will never exceed 350 in attendance. Why?
A Few Caveats
Allow me to preface my analysis. First, big is not necessarily better. A church with more people in attendance is not necessarily more faithful than a smaller church. Second, some churches are in very sparsely populated areas. There may not be 350 people in a five-mile radius (though every community still has people who need to be reached).
My third caveat is key. I believe leadership is indeed a biblical and theological issue. It’s really a matter of healthy stewardship. I offer this third caveat because I will be addressing the issue of leadership in this post.
Attendance Levels of Churches in America
We are a nation and continent of smaller churches. And though we have far more small churches than large churches, there is a big migration of people from smaller to larger churches. In other words, many of the smaller churches are getting smaller, and many of the larger churches are getting larger.
Here is a simple depiction of the number of churches at three different levels:
- 50% of all churches in America average less than 100 in worship attendance.
- 40% of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance.
- 10% of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance.
Keep in mind that the upper 10% tend to include more of the growing churches, while the lower 90% tend to include more of the declining churches.
One of the Key Reasons
There is no single reason to explain the apparent ceiling of 350 in attendance of most churches. I do believe, however, that there is a major reason for this barrier. Such is the thesis of this post:
One of the key reasons most churches do not move beyond 350 in average worship attendance is they do not have sufficient leadership and structures in place.
Many smart people have provided analyses of what is commonly known as the 200 barrier. I believe that the 200 barrier is highly elastic. In other words, the barrier is really somewhere between 150 and 350, depending on a number of circumstances. Again, I believe that the key reason stated above is among the greatest inhibitors of growth.
Increasing Organizational Complexity
Moses was an unintended victim of organizational complexity. He was trying the Lone Ranger approach to the leadership of Israel. The nation would implode and he would lose his leadership authority if he kept doing what he was doing.
His father-in-law, Jethro, saw the flaws of his leadership and said:
“What you’re doing is not good . . . You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18, HCSB).
So, following Jethro’s advice and wisdom, Moses became a different kind of leader with a different kind of organization.
Here are the five major levels of organizational complexity in churches according to average worship attendance:
- Under 100: Family and friends
- 100 to 250: Basic
- 251 to 350: Challenging
- 351 to 750: Complex
- Above 750: Highly complex
Most churches cannot or are not willing to make the types of changes that are necessary in complex organizations. In future resources, I will share what many leaders and churches are doing to move beyond the 100, 250, and 350 ceilings. In the meantime, let me hear from you.
Note from Barry: I highly recommend Thom’s new book, “Who Moved My Pulpit: Leading Change in the Church.” It deals with these specific issues in depth. Just click on the book cover below to preview and order.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 25, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.